Professionalism in Medicine Is the Basis for All That Follows


October 15, 2004

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We led into this discussion last week with our definitions of learned professionals.[1] The essence of professionalism is self-governance and self-regulation. At its center, medicine is a moral enterprise, grounded in a covenant of trust.[2] A number of years ago, Christine Cassel, MD, now the President of the American Board of Internal Medicine, listed the 10 characteristics that she believed defined a learned professional. I published them in an editorial in JAMA in 1995.[3] Looking at them afresh, one is struck by their timeless nature. They are:

  1. Self-governance individually and as a group;

  2. Service to the poor without expectation of compensation;

  3. Delivering quality;

  4. Not ripping people off;

  5. High level of learning;

  6. Autonomy of activity-earned autonomy;

  7. Altruism;

  8. Self-sacrifice;

  9. Heroism as needed; and

  10. Ethical practice with public accountability.

Doctor-reader, grade yourself. For example, are you one of the 70% of US physicians who give away free care to those in need? Or are you one of the 30% who opted out of acting professionally in this regard? Patient-reader, grade your physician. Use only true professionals as your physicians.

That's my opinion. I'm Dr. George Lundberg, Editor of MedGenMed.


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